- Extremely sensitive methodology can analyze a DNA sample size as small as three cells.
- Analysis method may be able to detect mutations in CTCs from patients with NSCLC.
- Method could help track progress of NSCLC and guide choice of targeted therapies.
SAN DIEGO — Researchers have developed a method to analyze circulating tumor cells in the blood of patients with non-small cell lung cancer. This method, which can analyze a sample size as small as three cells, may allow clinicians to track cancer progress and treatments and could help them develop new therapies.
“We have developed an extremely sensitive test that could be able to detect mutations present in circulating tumor cells (CTCs), and we are hoping that from their characterization, we would be able to understand diagnostic, prognostic and predictive markers,” said Heidi S. Erickson, Ph.D., assistant professor of thoracic/head and neck medical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Erickson presented the findings at the AACR-IASLC Joint Conference on Molecular Origins of Lung Cancer: Biology, Therapy and Personalized Medicine, held Jan. 8-11, 2012.
Even though researchers have found that the presence of CTCs in the blood of patients with lung cancer is associated with short survival, clinicians have had no way to analyze the actual CTCs because their levels were so small.
In this study, Erickson and colleagues showed the effectiveness of using high-throughput matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry single nucleotide polymorphism analysis (MALDI-TOF MS SNP) — an extremely sensitive analysis using a mass spectrometer — to analyze and determine the exact genetic mutations present in DNA from a few malignant cells that can be applied to CTC samples.
Identifying these mutations would allow clinicians to track progress of genetic changes and thus monitor the cancer and the effectiveness of any treatments being administered. It could also enable researchers to identify ways in which the cancer develops and possibly identify new therapy targets. This analysis method also benefits the patient in the way samples are taken.
“By being able to collect a blood sample from a patient instead of having to do a biopsy, we’ll have an opportunity to monitor the patient throughout treatment in an easier way,” said Erickson.
The researchers showed the method works by “spiking” a blood sample with a cell line containing a known specific mutation. They then used the MALDI-TOF MS SNP method to test the sample and found the cancer cell line mutation they had used.
Collection and purification methods of CTC samples are not yet perfected. When they are, the researchers will test samples from actual patients with lung cancer, Erickson said.
About the AACR:
The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes 33,000 laboratory, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants, research fellowships and career development awards to young investigators, and it also funds cutting-edge research projects conducted by senior researchers. The AACR has numerous fruitful collaborations with organizations and foundations in the United States and abroad and functions as the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, a charitable initiative that supports groundbreaking research aimed at getting new cancer treatments to patients in an accelerated time frame. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special Conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care, and Educational Workshops are held for the training of young cancer investigators. The AACR publishes seven major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Discovery; Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Prevention Research. In 2010, AACR journals received 20 percent of the total number of citations given to oncology journals. The AACR also publishes Cancer Today, a magazine for cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers, which provides practical knowledge and new hope for cancer survivors. A major goal of the AACR is to educate the general public and policymakers about the value of cancer research in improving public health, the vital importance of increases in sustained funding for cancer research and biomedical science, and the need for national policies that foster innovation and the acceleration of progress against the 200 diseases we call cancer.
Follow the AACR on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/aacr.org 
About the IASLC:
The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) is the only global organization dedicated to the study of lung cancer. Founded in 1974, the association’s membership includes more than 3,500 lung cancer specialists in 80 countries.
IASLC members promote the study of etiology, epidemiology, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and all other aspects of lung cancer and thoracic malignancies. IASLC disseminates information about lung cancer to scientists, members of the medical community and the public and uses all available means to eliminate lung cancer as a health threat for individual patients throughout the world. Membership is open to any physician, scientist, nurse or allied health professional interested in lung cancer, including patients, survivors, caregivers and advocates.
IASLC publishes the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, a valuable resource for medical specialists and scientists who focus on the detection, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.
To learn more about IASLC, visit http://iaslc.org 
In San Diego, Jan. 8-11: